What is the main theme of the story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main theme of this story is facing death, but as with much of Hemingway, the story also explores isolation and alienation. Harry is attended by his wife Helen as he dies of gangrene poisoning in Africa, but he does not love her. He thinks, as his mind wanders over his life, of the prostitutes he visited in Constantinople in earlier years to try to alleviate his loneliness. At the end of his life, he hallucinates that Compton has come in a two-seater airplane and that they will go off to seek medical care, leaving Helen behind. In other words, Harry does not really want his wife to join him on his final journey. That Compton and the plane are symbols of death is underscored when the plane, in his reveries, flies towards Kilimanjaro—representing nature—rather than civilization: Harry is not going toward this world to get medical help, but to another world. Of course, there is no plane and no Compton, so Harry is essentially dying alone. Harry also has a sense of failures as a writer as he dies with unwritten stories inside him, feeling his life, as he puts it, has been all about (failed) poetry and rot, what he calls "rotten poetry." The story is bleak, but Harry does face death stoically.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way to state the theme of a piece of literature is first to discover the topic of the piece, which in this case is death, and then put that into the form of a question: What does Harry's fate as a failed writer, his gangrenous leg, his dream of ascending to the white snow on the mountain, and the laugh of the hyena ("almost human") suggest about "death"? Perhaps it is something such as this:  In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Hemingway suggests that because we are all deeply flawed by our nature of being human, the shadow of death sharpens our desire to aspire to greatness." In any way you formulate your ideas on the theme, be sure you state it as a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, narrowing a "topic" to a universal truth about human experience.

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Death is the main theme of this story. It is a story of imminent death, and as such, images, ideas and character attitudes pervade the entire story. There is an excellent and thorough explanation of this theme along with the more minor theme of artistic creation at the link below.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

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